Sunday, January 27, 2008


When Lizzie awoke, the sun was high in the sky and the crush of her thirst an unbearable manacle which clung to her body with unutterable misery. She tried not to lick her lips and increase the misery, but the salt water inadvertently swallowed in the night had raised a salty hunger that burned to be assuaged. Lizzie, with some considerable difficulty, wrestled a small morsel of cheese from the workbag knotted to her wrist. She spoke a small prayer to the winds and waters for safe delivery, thinking Poseidon and Amphitrite might be more nearly within earshot than a contemporary deity, then began to nibble on the small wedge of cheese in hopes of making it last as long as possible.

Although Lizzie commanded herself to careful and delicate consumption, the tiny portion quickly disappeared, leaving her still hungry and perhaps doubly thirsty. She drew her eyes to the horizon and searched in vain for some sign of land or humanity. The water gave a curious brightness to the sky and almost seemed to shimmer in the distance. Lizzie considered kicking her feet to aid in her progress, but the horror of removing herself even further from safety froze her to inaction. Best to let the sea carry her forth, she told herself grimly, if there was to be any hope.

She had no sense of time or its passing. Although the passage of the sun across the sky could be tracked over time, Lizzie faded in and out of consciousness as the merciless orb beat down upon her. She did not dream, but her mind filled with random snatches of memory, from the long lost visages of her parents, to the distant and restrained images of Alice’s family, and of course, the inescapable oddness of their contemporary adventures since the funeral. As the day wore on and the glint of beams upon the waves taxed her already overwhelmed brain, Lizzie experienced feverish dreams of the King of Naples that she knew she would recall later only with supreme embarrassment, but which at the time proved somewhat soothing to her delirious spirit.

In this way, beleaguered by fancy, salty waves and savage thirst, the day passed, although Lizzie could not believe it was but one. She could hardly dare to believe that she could survive another like it, but put the thought away as soon as it rose to the surface of her consciousness. Sounds and voices echoed in her ears but Lizzie could never tell with certainty whether they came from without or within and feared that the merciless sun might deprive her altogether of her wits. After a time it was all she could do to cling to the barrel and try not to cry.

It was with a start that she awoke some indeterminate time later, to find the sun down and the black night once more holding sway. “Where are you now, Alice?” she whispered aloud, but there was no response in return save the waves lapping against the sides of the barrel. At least the cooler night air restored some sense of hope against the derangement of the bright day. Lizzie rallied and considered whether to give in to the urge for another bite of cheese, or to steel herself for another cold night without sustenance.

She was quite unprepared for the strange sensation she felt next as something brushed against her foot. The offended limb recoiled with sudden horror and Lizzie looked vainly into the ink-black water, where she was unable to see anything at all. Raising her head once more, Lizzie was startled to see something white in the distance. Could it be a mirage? As she squinted into the dark, Lizzie relaxed her legs once more and behold! They were touching the sandy surface of the ocean floor. The long white shape must surely be the strand along the shore! She was safe, safe at last. She had never been more grateful in her young life as she strode awkwardly through the water toward the approaching prize of land, sweet land.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Lizzie had began to think that she had added significantly to the ocean’s salty waves with her tears by the time she lost sight of both the Bonny Read and her dear cousin Alice, whose gentle face she now beheld in her thoughts touched with the warm white light of loss and regret. The violent stabs of lightning continued to rend the night sky, but the thunder seemed to be growing somewhat less tumultuous and the sound of the waves soon became that which filled her weary ears. She bobbed along the sea surface, although many a wave still o’er reached her head, dumping miserably cold water upon her wearied skull.

As she wiped her lips dry for the umpteenth time, Lizzie realized what important preparation they had not made: the securing of drinkable water. If she had known any oath stronger than “to the fiend with it!” (a phrase her late father had been much enamored of using in moments of extreme agitation), she would have used it then, for Lizzie knew all too well that without water to drink she and Alice would be parched in very little time and dead in not much longer, particularly if one gave in to the temptation to drink sea water. It was a death warrant, well she knew, but would Alice remember.

It was hard to imagine Alice coping on her own, paddling her way through the water alone. Lizzie sent up a desperate prayer that her young and often foolish cousin should not perish due to either her own neglect or Alice’s often inefficient thought. It was too much to be born! Lizzie could reconcile herself to the thought of death, full of regret as she might be to never see the King of Naples with her own eyes (for well she knew that phantasies were most often far more rewarding than realities ever proved to be), but she could not quite bring herself to picture poor dear Alice perishing in the cold waves, alone, confused and without adequate recognition and preparation for death.

If we are not near land, we shall perish, Lizzie thought with harsh simplicity. She looked in vain through the inky night but could discern no sign of stars or other signs but the occasional flash of lightning far in the distance. Did storms go out to sea or toward land, she wondered. If toward land, she might be floating in the right direction, for she was more or less moving in the same path as the storm was retreating. She hugged the barrel tightly, trying not to think of the lack of water, nor of the hungry fish that might be floating below her. She did not believe in sea monsters of any kind. Or so she told herself; when on dry land Lizzie had found the idea patently absurd and filed such notions away with the fancies of Gulliver’s Travels.

But now the idea of some ancient and tentacled monster rising to the surface, disturbed by her passage on the waves, not only seemed possible but entirely imminent. Lizzie anxiously tried to berate herself for her lack of logic, but found it impossible not to violently kick her feet whenever she imagined something brush against her leg. It might be only a fish, she admonished her suddenly wakeful imagination, but her increasingly frantic mind whispered back, it might not be a fish at that.

In such a way, Lizzie floated like a cork upon the wide ocean with not another soul in sight or within sound of her occasional pitiful cries. Done to a cow's thumb, exhausted by her fears and her struggle to survive, the brave young woman fell into a fitful slumber just as the first bright fingers of dawn began to lighten the darkness upon a much calmer sea.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Ensconced once more in the safety of the captain’s cabin, Lizzie looked with some alarm out the thick windows. The sky had become a precipitous black and the rain pelted against the windows as if it sought entry to their haven. Periodically the darkness was lit by wild slashes of lightning. The pitch of the ship grew until it seemed like some wild steed freed from its traces to plunge and charge at will. Its motion made her own strong stomach begin to flip over on its own. It looked to be an ominous night.

Their mending now forgotten, the two young women crouched at the window and tried to see out into the black night. It was fruitless, though. There was simply nothing to be seen in the inky evening.

“Oh Lizzie,” cried Alice, “We’re going to die, aren’t we?”

“Hush, Alice! There’s no need to be ridiculous. This ship has sailed across oceans, back and forth and been part of many a sea battle I would wager. The Bonny Read will keep us safe.” But in her heart Lizzie feared the same thing. Such a night! And the captain herself had seemed rather concerned… but she could not let that trouble her nor frighten Alice. How to keep their minds off such horrors when the ship pitched so wildly? Her eye lighted upon a book lying on the captain’s desk and inspiration struck.

Lizzie lurched across the room to the desk and picked up the small volume. She was somewhat aghast to find that it was yet another copy of Miss Sarah Fielding’s inexplicably popular tome The Governess. It would, nonetheless, suffice to keep their attention off the growing tempest or so she hoped. Lizzie beckoned to Alice and they sat side by side in the flickering light of the captain’s lamp. It would be a struggle to keep the pages still enough to read, but Lizzie thought it best to distract themselves.

“We were up to, ah -- the story of the giants, I think.” Alice’s eye was wild, paying no attention yet but darting toward the opaque windows. Lizzie cleared her voice and began in a rather loud voice to compensate for the wild dash of the waves and the soaring cry of the wind.

“The story of the cruel giant Barbarico, the good giant Benefico and the little pretty dwarf Mignon,” Lizzie said with great expression. “A great many hundred years ago, the mountains of Wales were inhabited by two giants; one of whom was the terror of all his neighbours and the plague of the whole country. He greatly exceeded the size of any giant recorded in history; and his eyes looked so fierce and terrible, that they frightened all who were so unhappy as to behold them.” A sudden crash of lightning made her start and Alice jump, then erupt with hiccoughs as the ship pitched up once more.

“The name of this enormous wretch was Barbarico. A name which filled all who heard it with fear and astonishment. The whole delight of this monster's life was in acts of inhumanity and mischief; and he was the most miserable as well as the most wicked creature that ever yet was born. He had no sooner committed one outrage -- ”

At the peak of another wave, the ship gave such a groan as a very evil giant might indeed give and both women cried out in horror and latched onto one another. “Oh, Lizzie,” Alice shrieked, “We’re going to die!”

“Hush, Alice,” Lizzie said, but her calm words belied a much more turbulent state of mind. It was impossible to go on reading in this hurly-burly. She slipped the book absently into her apron pocket and considered what they ought to do. Her first thought was about the importance of buoyancy, should the worst happen, but there were other practical concerns to consider. Lizzie rose and stuffed a good amount of the mending into workbags along with a few spools of thread and a packet of needles. She tied one around the wrist of her uncomprehending cousin and the other around her own.

“What’s that for?” Alice said, quailing before another peal of thunder as it ripped the chaos of the night.

Lizzie ignored her question and cast about the room for useful items. What was left of the cheese she also stuffed into the mending bags. It would be something, anyway. What else, Lizzie thought, a finger tapping her lips. She held a loop of rope in her hands, knowing it would be handy, but the problem of buoyancy remained uppermost in her mind.

“Barrels,” Alice said dully and Lizzie turned to regard her with some surprise. Not only had Alice seemed to have grasped the dire situation -- which was astounding enough -- but she also had come up with an excellent suggestion.

Except that the barrels were all on deck, Lizzie realized. A glance at the door revealed nothing but darkness outside, perhaps though, it would not be so bad to step outside and secure a small powder keg or two. Better to be safe, ne c’est pas?

Alice and Lizzie crept to the door and pulled it open. At once they were hit with the massive force of the gale, a wind that slapped them rudely as some ill-mannered hooligan and then rushed past them to the interior. But there, beside the cannon, a couple of small barrels slid precipitously back and forth in the wild storm. As the rain crashed down upon them, the two staggered toward the cannon, protected only by their light shawls and dragging the mending bags. Bending swiftly, Lizzie knotted a rope around the first one then tied another secure knot about the waist of her cousin. One good thing about living with sailors, she thought absently, one did learn quickly how good knots were tied. In another moment, Lizzie had secured herself in a similar fashion.

Their safety assured, the two young women turned to regain their sanctuary. The midnight hue of the sky belied the late afternoon hour and the gale roared like a furious giant. There was no one to be seen on deck and Lizzie paused in wonder as the ship reared up once more on the back of an enormous wave. As they staggered toward the beckoning door, the ship pitched back down into the sea as if it were a muskrat heading for the river bottom. Lizzie had no voice with which to shriek when she saw the wall of water coming across the deck. Alice, mercifully, was looking the other way and so saw nothing before the swell lifted them both aloft, barrels chopping the surface. In a moment they were over the side of the Bonny Read as it leapt up once more into the black night. Lizzie swallowed a quantity of salt water before bobbing once more to the surface with a gasp and a shriek, for she saw Alice borne upon another wave some yards away from her, her hands grasping the rope around the barrel, her mouth open in a silent scream.

The last thing Lizzie saw before the waters closed over her head once more was the pale white face of the friendly bosun, quizzically staring in her direction before lifting his hat in an unmistakable gesture of farewell.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Captured by woodland creatures!

Lose one week -- with luck your intrepid narrator will return with another episode January 13th, with or without toothmarks.